When dealing with a difficult problem, it is best to begin by asking what is the question or what is the problem.

The question surrounding creating Charleston University, which will include the College of Charleston and the Medical University, is this: Will it be increasingly essential for the Charleston region to have a graduate degree granting university, with attendant research capacities, for this region to be successful economically and meet the needs and wishes of the growing number of citizens in this part of South Carolina? I believe, without any question, the answer is yes. And we should be working now toward that end.

The only way for that to happen is to build upon the high- quality education institutions we have here, especially the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

There is nothing to fear. The College of Charleston, its beautiful historic campus and its scale as a moderately sized undergraduate college will not be changed by being a part of the university.

The University of Virginia, created by Thomas Jefferson, still has its intimate, breathtakingly beautiful campus and is now part of a comprehensive research degree granting university with a prominent medical school, several doctoral programs including history, chemistry, physics, economics, business administration and more. The same is true of Duke, Harvard, Emory and other leading universities.

To me, that is the model for Charleston University. An important part of it would be the undergraduate offerings by the College of Charleston, and I see no need to change the name. It will be the College of Charleston, which will be part of Charleston University.

The same with the Medical University. There is really no need to change its name either. It would be a functioning part of Charleston University. What the Medical University gains is the potential to create assets it does not now have such as Ph.D. programs in chemistry, physics, and more.

Certainly, with Charleston now being branded as Silicon Harbor, a graduate program in computer science with Master and Ph.D. opportunities are essential.

Not only do they produce important educational experiences and post-graduate degrees but by their very presence will mean that cutting-edge research on computer science will be done right here in the Charleston region, fostering economic growth - new jobs.

Students as well as faculty members of institutions of higher learning, whether a liberal arts college or a medical school or university, benefit from being in the midst of the educational and intellectual goings-on of a comprehensive university. There is a cross fertilization between and among faculty members and students which enhances the educational experience.

Also, our society is less rigidly tied to disciplines. That is, a student at the Medical University exposed to a graduate level course in business administration could find this enormously beneficial to success as a medical professional. There are countless other examples.

This is not a time for worrying about turf. This is a time to think about what the needs of this region will be in 10 or 25 years and making sure decisions to serve those needs are being made now. There can be no doubt that a comprehensive research and degree granting university will be needed for this community to excel. The College of Charleston and Medical University will be the most important part of Charleston University and those institutions will benefit immensely from being a part of the University. Rather than resisting change, both institutions should be willing to roll up their sleeves and work with Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Jim Merrill, the Chamber of Commerce, and others to plan how to create what this region needs - Charleston University.

Joseph P. Riley Jr. is mayor of Charleston.